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Paul Volcker on the “Existential test” facing America

Fifteen years ago, in February 2005, I excerpted from a speech by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker at Stanford. That prescient speech about housing and excessive borrowing is available on YouTube. Some of Volcker’s comments were: “Altogether, the circumstances seem as dangerous and intractable as I can remember. … Homeownership has become a vehicle for borrowing and leveraging as much as a source of financial security.”

I shared Volcker’s concerns back then.

Sadly Paul Volcker passed away in December.   Just a few months before his death, he wrote an “afterword to the forthcoming paperback edition of his autobiography“. Here are a few excerpts (via the Financial Times):

By the late summer of 2018, it was already clear that the US and the world order it had helped establish during my lifetime were facing deep-seated political, economic, and cultural challenges.

Nonetheless, I drew reassurance from my mother’s reminder that the US had endured a brutal civil war, two world wars, a great depression, and still emerged as the leader of the “free world”, a model for democracy, open markets, free trade, and economic growth. That was, for me, a source of both pride and hope. Today, threats facing that model have grown more ominous, and our ability to withstand them feels less certain. …

Today … Nihilistic forces … seek to discredit the pillars of our democracy: voting rights and fair elections, the rule of law, the free press, the separation of powers, the belief in science, and the concept of truth itself.

Without them, the American example that my mother so cherished will revert to the kind of tyranny that once seemed to be on its way to extinction — though, sadly, it remains ensconced in some less fortunate parts of the world.

Seventy-five years ago, Americans rose to the challenge of vanquishing tyranny overseas. We joined with our allies, keenly recognising the need to defend and sustain our hard-won democratic freedoms. Today’s generation faces a different, but equally existential, test. How we respond will determine the future of our own democracy and, ultimately, of the planet itself.
emphasis added

Once again I share Volcker’s concerns. Although most of my writing this year will be on the economy, I will be writing about U.S. politics this year.

If you aren’t sure what is coming, see this post concerning the mid-term election.

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